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Rebecca Vallez, Washburn

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Owners moving, raising homes as local water levels rise

Mary Hayes' memories of Pigeon Lake date back decades. Her parents bought land on the lake's north shore in 1968 and made a retreat for the Eau Claire family.

About 35 to 40 houses now dot the lake just west of Drummond in southern Bayfield County. But the lake homes are in danger — and a few have already been lost — to an unlikely villain: water.

Annual precipitation rates have been climbing in the Northwoods and storms of greater intensity and frequency are becoming the new norm.

That has spelled disaster for many homeowners on Pigeon Lake, a body of water in a 5,000-acre forest with no natural outlet to siphon off high water. Many owners are finding they must either move or raise their homes as shorelines creep closer.

Hayes is one of those who is raising her home after perusing long-range precipitation forecasts and seeing water in her home's crawl space for the first time ever this year.

She didn't have room to move the house, she said, and raising the home six feet isn't coming cheaply. The project, which she funded by selling her RV, is setting her back $70,000.

Neither she nor Pigeon Lake is alone. Record water levels across the Northwoods are forcing others to confront the same realities.

Lake Superior erosion

Moving homes to save them from a watery fate also is a big move homeowners on a much bigger lake are being forced to consider. High water and intense storms have been eating away at the shoreline of Lake Superior, endangering structures.

Theron O'Connor of Bayfield owns a log cabin near Cornucopia that has been in his family for about five generations. He and his wife, Demaris Brinton, have seen lakeshore neighbors move their houses and are preparing for the possibility they may have to do the same.

Brinton said a 2017 storm completely changed the shoreline near the cabin and undercut the bank. The couple could walk up and down the shore before the storm, Brinton said, but now the beach has mostly disappeared.

And it's not just the Great Lake's water level that concerns the couple. Brinton said precipitation and creeks also are cutting into the land, eroding the shoreline.

The reality is that weather is changing dramatically, she said, and the resulting changes to the cliffs and loss of trees is heartbreaking.

Alternative solutions

Moving or raising a home could prove to be a short-term fix if erosion or lake levels continue to encroach on buildings, but alternatives are few — and may even carry a heftier price tag.

Brinton said many people have proposed ideas for shoring up Lake Superior lakeside properties. But those projects, such as installing rip rap, could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to do effectively.

It's cheaper to move a home, she said.

That may be true on Pigeon Lake as well, but many homeowners are retirees living on fixed incomes who don't have a way to even procure a loan, Hayes said.

Hayes also has been studying long-term solutions as secretary of the Pigeon Lake Association Board. She and the board's president have been going over possible answers with Bayfield County, U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Natural Resources officials.

They have been trying to find funding for lake residents who have lost their homes or are about to, she said, but that's proving to be difficult. For one thing, the Federal Emergency Management Agency refused to give Pigeon Lake residents grant money even after last year's June storm dumped 18 inches in 16 hours, raising the lake 4 1/2 feet in a day.

The association also is looking into managing the lake level, which can only recede as water evaporates or seeps into the ground. They are looking into how much it would cost to hire an environmental engineering company to do a feasibility study on installing a high-capacity, deep-water well and adding infrastructure to pump water into Lake Drummond, Hayes said.

To her mind, spending money to manage the lake level is smarter than continuing to raise roads, such as Highway N, which the county was forced to close for several weeks earlier this summer because Pigeon Lake topped it.

And preventing the lake from eating away at property lines and destroying homes will preserve the land's value. Hayes said one of her neighbors has seen the value of his property drop from $175,000 to $43,000.

Rob Schierman, director of planning and zoning in Bayfield County, said homeowners' options to save their homes from high water or shore erosion depend on where they live, and his department will work with them to try to find the best solution.

Scheirman urged landowners to plan for more frequent and stronger storms and consider good land-management practices when developing property. He said part of the problems seen by some homeowners on Lake Superior stem from their decision to cut down cliff-shoring trees to get a better view of the lake.

Gazing out over Pigeon Lake Thursday, Hayes saw trees that once lined the shore on her property standing drowned and dead a good 25 feet or more into the lake. The DNR will probably let them fall into the water to provide fish habitat, she said, but she will need to consider the fates of the trees closer to her home that could damage the structure if they fall on it.

The modern-day face of Pigeon Lake shocks Hayes' mother, who at 89 still visits the lake home. She told her daughter that "never in her wildest dreams" would she have pictured this to be the lake's future when she and her husband bought the land half a century ago.


New downtown Ashland store to feature CBD products
Formerly illegal substance used for variety of ills

In less than a year since the passage of the 2018 U.S. farm bill, CBD and other associated hemp products have grown from being illegal drugs to one of the nation's hottest growth industries.

In Ashland, sales of CBD — the shorthand form for cannabidiol — products have taken off at several retailers, and now a downtown business specializing in them is set to open by mid September.

Sutherland CBD plans to begin operations at the former Music Center location at 415 Main St. W. Co-owner Craig Sutherland, who operates two other CBD outlets in Duluth and Superior, is part of a new retail industry with sales expected to top $5 billion. That is over a 700% increase over last year's CBD sales, which were limited to a few states where such sales were legal.

Cannabidiol is a product of the hemp plant; a variety of the cannabis plant, better known for its psychoactive variety, marijuana. However, hemp has virtually none of the active mindaltering tetrahydrocannabinol as marijuana, and CBD is rapidly gaining a strong following for its therapeutic qualities. CBD products can be smoked, applied as a spray or in ointments and creams, consumed in food or capsules and even as pet treats for dogs. Proponents say CBD can be used to treat anxiety, chronic pain, depression, insomnia, epilepsy, muscle spasms — even acne and Parkinson's disease.

Because CBD hasn't had much formal medical research, it's hard to evaluate the truth of these claims. But in the few months it has been widely available, there has been a groundswell of support for it and many anecdotal accounts of its efficacy.

A 2017 study by the World Health Organization said CBD in its pure form is safe and well-tolerated by humans and animals and unlikely to cause dependence or be subject to abuse.

And Sutherland said he has firsthand evidence of its efficacy.

"Four years ago I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I was seeing a rapid downward spiral," said Sutherland who, unsatisfied with regular medicine, decided to use a holistic approach including CBD.

"I saw amazing results when it came to anxiety and pain. I am a testimonial piece," Sutherland said.

With many outlets and even convenience stores and gas stations now selling CBD products, Sutherland said one thing that differentiates his store is control of the supply chain and third-party testing he has done to ensure the quality and purity of the product he sells.

"With many other places, you have no idea what you are getting," he said.

Sutherland is leasing the building from new owner Kevin Porter who bought the structure last November. Porter is in the process of remodeling the interior of the building to house the new store in the front of the building, while having space for an additional operation at the rear.

He said he was delighted to lease the location to Sutherland.

"I think it's just phenomenal. My cousin takes CBD oil regularly for post traumatic stress disorder after being in the Gulf War and he swears by it," he said.


Construction flagger suffers 'lifethreatening' injuries
Driver released, could be charged

A 43-year-old Odanah woman working as part of a road construction crew suffered life-threatening injuries Monday when she was hit by a driver who veered around traffic that was stopped for workers.

Vickie Williams was treated at the scene then taken to an area hospital, then transferred to Duluth after she was hit by an SUV driven by Gerald Robertson, 77, of Mason according to the State Patrol, which is investigation the crash.

Robertson was questioned by police and released; police said charges could be issued after their investigation is complete.

Sanborn Avenue, also known as Highway 112, is being rebuilt in Ashland and occasionally traffic is halted to allow construction equipment and workers to proceed with the project. Prior to the crash, flaggers were stopping northbound traffic and there was a line of cars and construction vehicles waiting to be allowed through.

Ashland police said that Robertson passed the line of four stopped vehicles, traveling on the right on the shoulder of the road, before driving back onto the road and hitting Williams, who was working as a flagger.

"It appears as though the suspect vehicle, after passing the he line of stopped vehicles, struck the victim with his vehicle," an Ashland Police Department press release said.

Neither Ashland police nor the State Patrol offered information on why Robertson might have ignored traffic laws and passed the stopped traffic.

Witnesses told the Daily Press that Williams, employed by Northwoods Paving of Ashland, had stopped traffic when a Toyota RAV 4 hit her from behind.

They said the collision launched Williams into the air and then crashing to the pavement. A shoe rested in the roadway Monday where she landed as police investigated the scene.

"I went to her so she wouldn't move. I was afraid she was dead," said fellow construction worker Chrissie Fratzke, who witnessed the crash.

Fratzke said she had been flagging at the spot and that Williams had taken over the job so she could take a break. Fratzke said she was coming back from the break when she saw the Williams turn her back on northbound traffic to check for southbound traffic before allowing northbound vehicles to proceed.

"Right when she turned back, the SUV came up on the shoulder, around the dump trucks, and never put on his brakes and hit her. All I could see was her flying up in the air," she said.

Fratzke, a former emergency medical technician, rushed to help Williams as the SUV continued to head north without stopping, she said. Another crew member, Jarvis Simms, said he yelled for other workers to stop the driver.

Robertson was successfully halted about 100 yards down the road and said he was not aware that he had hit anything, Sims said.

Meanwhile, Williams was being tended to by Fratzke and Sims when another EMT who was driving on Sanborn Avenue arrived with a duffle bag of emergency medical equipment and helped to immobilize her until Ashland emergency medical personnel arrived.

Fratzke said the Williams was conscious after the accident.

The Wisconsin State Patrol Tuesday issued a news release saying that any enforcement action against the driver of the SUV was "pending investigation." The release also characterized William's injuries as "life-threatening." Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth Tuesday listed her condition as serious.

Ashland Police Chief Jim Gregoire said the driver of the SUV was detained, interviewed and later released by Ashland police.

"When the investigation is complete, it will be reviewed for potential charges to the suspect," the release said.


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